HC Deb 21 May 1996 vol 278 cc89-90
8. Mr. Booth

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the long-term effect on public spending of his social security reforms. [28811]

Mr. Lilley

The major reforms that I have announced to date are expected to reduce public expenditure by £5 billion a year at today's prices by the turn of the century. That will rise to £15 billion a year in the longer term.

Mr. Booth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whereas Conservative policies are based on fairness and targeting help to those who are most in need, those of the Opposition are weighed down by the millstone of past commitments and the albatross of future divisions?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Opposition have been unable to produce any concrete proposals for reforming the social security system. We were promised six months of thinking the unthinkable and then some concrete, costed, detailed proposals. Instead, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) made a speech that even his friends thought he would regret. I shall quote one of them, writing in The Spectator: he is a decent fellow"— I share that view— and I cannot believe that he could re-read his own text without embarrassment. The Opposition should forget about thinking the unthinkable and just do some thinking.

Ms Glenda Jackson

How can the Secretary of State possibly know what future benefits there will be when the reply that I received from his Department in response to a series of questions asking how many claimants have been taken off the benefit register in only two benefit offices in response to his social security benefits changes was that no such information is held and the cost of obtaining it would be disproportionate? Is it not the case that he neither knows nor cares how many people are living in penury because of his brutal changes?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Lady knows that we have put forward and implemented detailed, concrete and costed proposals. The fact that the information is not necessarily broken down parish by parish does not discount that achievement. When the Labour party offers concrete, costed proposals, she will be in a position to argue and to ask those sorts of questions.